by Bernardino de Senna Fernandes "Riri" d'AssumpçãoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (3) to be taken to his personal page

Edited extract from an unpublished book of anecdotes

According to my grandfather, his first trip to the Far East was quite uneventful until the warship reached the Indian Ocean. It was then that, probably because of the heat, a member of the crew suffered a severe fit of apoplexy; the Medical Officer on board, perhaps after a cursory examination, declared him dead and issued the usual Death Certificate.

To appreciate what happened next, we should consider that the ships' doctors were then mainly of mediocre ability, and of course medical knowledge was not as advanced as today. In addition, members of the socially disadvantaged classes in Portugal would never dream of questioning the decision of a superior.

In small and extremely crowded naval vessels in the tropics, corpses had to be buried as soon as possible so the Medical Officer would have sought the permission of the Captain for the "corpse" to be prepared immediately for burial at sea.

He selected at random two members of the crew, who happened to be cousins, young farmers from a remote village in Portugal who had been caught and pressed into service while on their way to Lisbon to visit relatives. They were ordered to wrap the body wrapped in canvas, weigh down its feet with old chains and scrap metal and place it on a plank near the rails ready to be tipped overboard.

By the time the ship's company had been assembled on deck for the burial service these two young ex-farmers had completed their tasks and were standing next to the "corpse" ready to obey orders.

The ship's Chaplain then started to pray and, as he could see that one of those sudden tropical squalls was coming directly towards the ship, he hurried over the last rites and succeeded in finishing them just as the first drops of torrential rain reached the ship.

The Officer-in-Charge, in turn anxious to dismiss his men as soon as possible, signalled to these two young yokels to complete their duties.

No one will ever know whether it was because of the holy water sprinkled by the priest or the torrential shower that followed, but our "corpse", wrapped up and somewhat muffled, sat up on the plank and shouted, "Hey, what are you doing?"

Now, any normal person would have realised immediately that the man was not dead, but not our two yokels. Brought up from early childhood to obey their landlords blindly, they now obeyed their naval superiors without hesitation. The doctor had said that the man was dead; the officer had ordered them to up-end the plank and slide the "corpse" into the sea. Therefore, whether he had risen from the dead or was a ghost, they were there to do their duty and they did it.

So into the sea went this poor man.

Of course, there was an inquiry after this, but then no court martial was ever held. After all, on whom could the blame be placed?